Illinois retailers outside of Chicago that have been closed since mid-March are preparing to let customers back in stores starting Friday.
That doesn’t include stores in Chicago, which is not planning to loosen restrictions on retailers that are not considered essential until early June.
But the coronavirus pandemic means it won’t be business as usual. Here’s what to expect:
What will open right away?
Just because stores can reopen doesn’t mean all will be ready to open their doors Friday. It’s worth checking before making a trip, and even those that are open may start with limited hours.
Crate and Barrel will reopen all six Illinois stores outside the city on Saturday. The Chicago store, in the Ranch Triangle neighborhood, currently offers curbside pickup.
Most Goodwill Northern Illinois donation centers have already reopened and 11 stores, including those in Algonquin, Huntley, Crystal Lake, McHenry and DeKalb, open Friday.
Some retailers are starting with limited hours, including Anderson’s Bookshop’s stores in Naperville, Downers Grove and La Grange, and Notice, which sells apparel and gifts in Evanston and Barrington.
On Notice’s first day, Saturday, the only employees in stores will be the owner and her daughter, Becky Jackson. “We figured we’d take the first day ourselves and see what it entails with the new rules,” she said. “It just felt right.”
Several major chains that have opened stores in other states have not announced plans for Illinois yet, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Barnes and Noble, Nordstrom, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Apple, Ulta, American Eagle and Aerie.
What about malls?
Malls can reopen with the same capacity limits as retail stores. Seating at indoor food courts will be off limits, though restaurants can open for carryout or delivery. Some stores within malls may still be closed.
Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills and Fox Valley Mall in Aurora will reopen June 1. Jeff Rutzen, Hawthorn Mall’s general manager, encouraged customers to check with individual stores or visit the mall’s website, which will update stores’ status daily.
Both malls, which are managed by Centennial Real Estate Management Company, initially will limit hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday to allow more time for cleaning.
"Mall ambassadors” at entrances and other busy areas will provide face coverings and hand sanitizer if shoppers request them and answer any questions about new policies in place around sanitation and social distancing. Some stores and restaurants will continue offering curbside pickup.
Other local malls have not announced reopening plans.
Are masks required?
Illinois requires people wear masks or face coverings in places where social distancing is challenging, like retail stores. Several retailers said they encourage masks even where local regulations say shoppers don’t need them.
Others, including Apple, American Eagle Outfitters and Fleet Feet, said they require customers cover their faces and will provide free masks if shoppers don’t bring their own. Apple also checks customers’ temperatures at the door.
Will stores be crowded?
Illinois’ guidelines say retailers can operate at half their maximum capacity, or five customers per 1,000 square feet.
Certain stores may attract enough shoppers to hit their capacity limit and require a line outside the store, but many shoppers will choose to stay home, said Gabriella Santaniello, president and founder of A Line Partners, based on what the retail research firm has seen in places like Texas and Florida. Some shoppers are likely still being cautious, while others may wait for more stores to reopen.
“It’s strange to be in a mall where only 10% of the stores are open,” she said.
At an outdoor mall in Texas, only one store, Athleta, hit its capacity limit and had a line to enter, according to a report from consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail.
American Eagle Outfitters, parent company of American Eagle and Aerie stores, has an app where customers who don’t want to stand in line can sign up to get a notification when it’s their turn to go inside.
Some stores are offering or require appointments for shopping, including running retailer Fleet Feet, which is reopening three suburban stores Friday. Neiman Marcus has required appointments at stores that have reopened in other states.
In Highland Park, Pam Hillman said her stores, including Beanstalk Toys, home goods store Harper and Ash and multiple apparel shops, will reserve every Monday for appointments. Stores will be open to walk-in shoppers the rest of the week.
“We feel there are going to be people who want to shop but have not embraced coming into the store yet,” she said.
Are fitting rooms open?
Illinois’ guidelines say retailers should disinfect surfaces like benches, door handles and hooks between each use or keep fitting rooms closed. The state also advised against letting customers try on bathing suits and undergarments.
In states where stores have reopened, policies vary by retailer. TJ Maxx, Gap, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney aren’t letting shoppers try items on. Gap is also keeping store restrooms closed too.
Others, including Macy’s, Express and Lululemon, said some fitting rooms are available.
At Fleet Feet, fitting rooms and restrooms are closed and customers are being told not to touch merchandise on shelves and walls.
If shoppers can’t try items on, many retailers have extended return policies.
Will everything be on sale?
Many stores still have merchandise left on shelves from when they closed in March. Bazar will open with sales to clear out spring apparel and make room for summer merchandise, said Doug Zylstra, owner of Bazar, an apparel store in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood. He plans to reopen as soon as the City of Chicago allows.
Still, while stores in other states appear to be offering more discounts than at the same time last year, customers shouldn’t expect a “crazy fire sale,” said Santaniello. Chains may be waiting until more locations open so customers will see consistent prices, she said.
Will stores take cash?
It depends on the store. Anthropologie is not accepting payment by cash or check except where laws prohibit stores from going cashless. Lululemon and Fleet Feet said they will not take cash either. Dick’s Sporting Goods is encouraging shoppers to avoid cash but designates a specific register at each store for cash transactions.
What about other in-store services?
Macy’s and Lululemon have said reopened stores will not offer alterations. At Macy’s and Aerie, customers won’t be able to get one-on-one bra fittings.
Beauty services are being pared back too. Salons in J.C. Penney stores haven’t reopened even where local regulations would allow it. Ulta is offering hair services at some stores that have reopened but not skincare or makeup, and customers aren’t allowed to touch cosmetics normally left open for testing.
At Macy’s, the only way to test cosmetics before buying is to ask an employee to apply the product to a piece of paper with an illustration of a woman’s face.
What happened to curbside pickup?
Many retailers continue to offer curbside service as stores reopen.
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